Sweeping changes needed to curb abuses at local housing authorities

There are 242 public housing authorities in Massachusetts. Not all serve as convenient hiding places for lazy or corrupt managers. But housing agencies are uniquely prone to waste, fraud, and abuse, especially those overseen by inattentive or complicit boards of commissioners.

The Medford Housing Authority is the latest agency to fall under the scrutiny of state and federal investigators. The city’s housing chief, Robert Covelle, faces allegations of favoritism in hiring and contracting. Governor Patrick has demanded his resignation. But he couldn’t unilaterally remove Covelle despite the state’s financial support for Medford’s public housing projects. Neither can the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. And therein lies a major problem: funders have too little control over who runs these multimillion-dollar agencies charged with sheltering low-income families, elderly residents, and people with disabilities.

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